We are extremely fortunate at Fegans to have many experienced members of staff and our Parenting Support Lead has put this advice together to help support you talk to your children about the pandemic.
Don’t be afraid to discuss the coronavirus
Children will know about the virus, so parents shouldn’t avoid talking about it as this can make children worry more. Your goal is to help your children feel informed with fact-based information that is likely more reassuring than whatever they’re hearing from their friends or on their newsfeeds.
If you are feeling anxious, take some time to calm down before trying to have a conversation or answer your child’s questions. Keeping your worries in check will help your whole family navigate this uncertain situation as easily as possible. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, step away and take a break.
Answer your child’s questions age appropriately, honestly and clearly
Keep it simple. It’s okay if you can’t answer everything – look up the answers together. Ask your child to tell you anything they have heard about the coronavirus, and how they feel. Let them ask questions. Take their questions seriously– don’t dismiss their fears – but avoid encouraging frightening fantasies. Keep perspective, focus on solutions and don’t dwell on “worse case” scenarios.
Focus on what you’re doing to stay safe. The coronavirus is transmitted mostly by coughing and touching surfaces so thoroughly washing your hands keeps you healthy. Remind your children that they are taking care of themselves and others by washing their hands with soap and water for twenty seconds as regularly as sensible. If your children ask about face masks, explain that they aren’t necessary for most people.
Keep it positive
Children love time off school. Use that! Let them know that you’re glad they’re excited, but make sure they understand that though it may feel like holidays, things will be different this time. Be positive about the fun you will have but remind them that you will all be working and sticking to your routines.
Reassure them that children are much less affected by the virus than older people. They may be worried about people they know – grandparents, or people with underlying conditions. They may have asthma or other complicating conditions themselves. Make sure you know what the advice is, so you can promise them that everything is being done.
Not seeing Grandparents
When you talk about not being able to see relatives be positive in the way you tell them about it – saying “We won’t be seeing them this week because we are keeping our distance to keep them safe” is better than saying “We are staying away because we might make them sick.”
Look out for anxiety
Children who are acting out or being more defiant than usual may be feeling anxious. Take time to listen to their fears. When they are calm talk about their feelings and different ways that they can express their emotions. Respond to your children’s outbursts in a calm, consistent and comforting way.
Stick to routine
Uncertainty unsettles children. Consistency and structure are calming during times of stress. If your child’s school or pre-school shuts down you need to keep up regular mealtimes and bedtimes to keep you children happy and healthy. Take time as a family to plan a schedule and include study and playtime. Add family activities to your routine, such as family games or cooking new foods. Take a daily family walk or bike ride (avoid contact with others/ playground surfaces). Burn off energy and make sure everyone stays active.
Tell them that you will continue to keep them updated as you learn more. This keeps the conversation open so that they can ask questions as they need to. Limit the amount of time you spend watching the news, look out for scaremongering posts on the internet and mute people that post panic- making material. Use technology to search for positive things that you can do together or something that uplifts you and to keep in touch with those you care about.
Keep your support network strong
Call and text friends and family. Socializing regulates your and your kid’s mood. Let your children use social media (within reason) and Skype or FaceTime to stay connected to peers even if they aren’t usually allowed to do so. Communication can help kids feel less alone. Technology can also help younger children feel closer to relatives or friends they can’t see – tonight call the grandparents and ask them to read a bedtime story.
When events are scary and largely out of our control, be proactive about what you can control. Involve older children in planning for self-isolation. What food do you need? What films and games and activities will keep you occupied if schools must close? All the family can take part sharing ideas – listening to each in turn and pooling ideas boosts self-esteem and the feeling of belonging.
Be kind to yourself
You are not going to be the perfect parent. Apologise when you get it wrong and start again. Relax your boundaries about screens a little and give yourselves a break. Do explain though that this is a unique situation and put the boundaries back into place once the crisis is over. If you can, join in with them on the games they play or watch a film together. Keep your family sane and safe by getting the balance right. Trust yourself- you are the expert on your child.
Accept and ask for help
If you have a partner take turns to look after the children. If one or both of you are working from home then make a schedule. Have the children help with age appropriate jobs. Older siblings may be able to help with younger siblings. Working as a team will help your whole family to stay busy and make sure that no one person is overwhelmed.
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